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Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 13868

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Mr. Puffington took the Mangeysterne, now the Hanby hounds, because he thought they would give him consequence. Not that he was particularly deficient in that article; but being a new man in the county, he thought that taking them would make him popular, and give him standing. He had no natural inclination for hunting, but seeing friends who had no taste for the turf take upon themselves the responsibility of stewardships, he saw no reason why he should not make a similar sacrifice at the shrine of Diana. Indeed, Puff was not bred for a sportsman. His father, a most estimable man, and one with whom we have spent many a convivial evening, was a great starch-maker at Stepney; and his mother was the daughter of an eminent Worcestershire stone-china maker. Save such ludicrous hunts as they might have seen on their brown jugs, we do not believe either of them had any acquaintance whatever with the chase. Old Puffington was, however, what a wise heir esteems a great deal more-an excellent man of business, and amassed mountains of money. To see his establishment at Stepney, one would think the whole world was going to be starched. Enormous dock-tailed dray-horses emerged with ponderous waggons heaped up to the very skies, while others would come rumbling in, laden with wheat, potatoes, and other starch-making ingredients. Puffington's blue roans were well known about town, and were considered the handsomest horses of the day; quite equal to Barclay and Perkin's piebalds.

Old Puffington was not like a sportsman. He was a little, soft, rosy, roundabout man, with stiff resolute legs that did not look as if they could be bent to a saddle. He was great, however, in a gig, and slouched like a sack.

Mrs. Puffington, née Smith, was a tall handsome woman, who thought a good deal of herself. When she and her spouse married, they lived close to the manufactory, in a sweet little villa replete with every elegance and convenience-a pond, which they called a lake-laburnums without end; a yew, clipped into a dock-tailed waggon-horse; standing for three horses and gigs, with an acre and half of land for a cow.

Old Puffington, however, being unable to keep those dearest documents of the British merchant, his balance-sheets, to himself, and Mrs. Puffington finding a considerable sum going to the 'good' every year, insisted, on the birth of their only child, our friend, upon migrating to the 'west,' as she called it, and at one bold stroke they established themselves in Heathcote Street, Mecklenburgh Square. Novelists had not then written this part down as 'Mesopotamia,' and it was quite as genteel as Harley or Wimpole Street are now. Their chief object then was to increase their wealth and make their only son 'a gentleman.' They sent him to Eton, and in due time to Christ Church, where, of course, he established a red coat to persecute Sir Thomas Mostyn's and the Duke of Beaufort's hounds, much to the annoyance of their respective huntsmen, Stephen Goodall and Philip Payne, and the aggravation of poor old Griff. Lloyd.

What between the field and college, young Puffington made the acquaintance of several very dashing young sparks-Lord Firebrand, Lord Mudlark, Lord Deuceace, Sir Harry Blueun, and others, whom he always spoke of as 'Deuceace,' 'Blueun,' etc., in the easy style that marks the perfect gentleman.[1] How proud the old people were of him! How they would sit listening to him, flashing, and telling how Deuceace and he floored a Charley, or Blueun and he pitched a snob out of the boxes into the pit. This was in the old Tom-and-Jerry days, when fisticuffs were the fashion. One evening, after he had indulged us with a more than usual dose, and was leaving the room to dress for an eight o'clock dinner at Long's, 'Buzzer!' exclaimed the old man, clutching our arm, as the tears started to his eyes, 'Buzzer! that's an amaazin' instance of a pop'lar man!' And certainly, if a large acquaintance is a criterion of popularity, young Puffington, as he was then called, had his fair share. He once did us the honour-an honour we shall never forget-of walking down Bond Street with us, in the spring-tide of fashion, of a glorious summer's day, when you could not cross Conduit Street under a lapse of a quarter of an hour, and carriages seemed to have come to an interminable lock at the Piccadilly end of the street. In those days great people went about like great people, in handsome hammer-clothed, arms-emblazoned coaches, with plethoric three-corner-hatted coachmen, and gigantic, lace-bedizened, quivering-calved Johnnies, instead of rumbling along like apothecaries in pill-boxes, with a handle inside to let themselves out. Young men, too, dressed as if they were dressed-as if they were got up with some care and attention-instead of wearing the loose, careless, flowing, sack-like garments they do now.

We remember the day as if it were but yesterday; Puffington overtook us in Oxford Street, where we were taking our usual sauntering stare into the shop windows, and instead of shirking or slipping behind our back, he actually ran his arm up to the hilt in ours, and turned us into the middle of the flags, with an 'Ah, Buzzer, old boy, what are you doing in this debauched part of the town? Come along with me, and I'll show you Life!'

So saying he linked arms, and pursuing our course at a proper kill-time sort of pace, we were at length brought up at the end of Vere Street, along which there was a regular rush of carriages, cutting away as if they were going to a fire instead of to a finery shop.

Many were the smiles, and bows, and nods, and finger kisses, and bright eyes, and sweet glances, that the fair flyers shot at our friend as they darted past. We were lost in astonishment at the sight. 'Verily,' said we, 'but the old man was right. This is an amaazin' instance of a pop'lar man.'

Young Puffington was then in the heyday of youth, about one-and-twenty or so, fair-haired, fresh-complexioned, slim, and standing, with the aid of high-heeled boots, little under six feet high. He had taken after his mother, not after old Tom Trodgers, as they called his papa. At length we crossed over Oxford Street, and taking the shady side of Bond Street, were quickly among the real swells of the world-men who crawled along as if life was a perfect burden to them-men with eye-glasses fixed and tasselled canes in their hands, scarcely less ponderous than those borne by the footmen. Great Heavens! but they were tight, and smart, and shiny; and Puffington was just as tight, and smart, and shiny as any of them. He was as much in his element here as he appeared to be out of it in Oxford Street. It might be prejudice, or want of penetration on our part, but we thought he looked as high-bred as any of them. They all seemed to know each other, and the nodding, and winking, and jerking, began as soon as we got across. Puff kindly acted as cicero

ne, or we should not have been aware of the consequence we were encountering.

'Well, Jemmy!' exclaimed a debauched-looking youth to our friend, 'how are you?-breakfasted yet?'

'Going to,' replied Puffington, whom they called Jemmy because his name was Tommy.

'That,' said he, in an undertone, 'is a capital fellow-Lord Legbail, eldest son of the Marquis of Loosefish-will be Lord Loosefish. We were at the Finish together till six this morning-such fun!-bonneted a Charley, stole his rattle, and broke an early breakfast-man's stall all to shivers.' Just then up came a broad-brimmed hat, above a confused mass of greatcoats and coloured shawls.

'Holloa, Jack!' exclaimed Mr. Puffington, laying hold of a mother-of-pearl button nearly as large as a tart-plate, 'not off yet?'

'Just going,' replied Jack, with a touch of his hat, as he rolled on, adding, 'want aught down the road?'

'What coachman is that?' asked we.

'Coachman!' replied Puff, with a snort. 'That's Jack Linchpin-Honourable Jack Linchpin-son of Lord Splinterbars-best gentleman coachman in England.'

So Puffington sauntered along, good morninging 'Sir Harrys' and 'Sir Jameses,' and 'Lord Johns' and 'Lord Toms,' till, seeing a batch of irreproachable dandies flattening their noses against the windows of the Sailors' Old Club, in whose eyes, he perhaps thought, our city coat and country gaiters would not find much favour, he gave us a hasty parting squeeze of the arm and bolted into Long's just as a mountainous hackney-coach was rumbling between us and them.

But to the old man. Time rolled on, and at length old Puffington paid the debt of nature-the only debt, by the way, that he was slow in discharging-and our friend found himself in possession, not only of the starch manufactory, but of a very great accumulation of consols-so great that, though starch is as inoffensive a thing as a man can well deal in, a thing that never obtrudes itself, or, indeed appears in a shop unless it is asked for-notwithstanding all this, and though it was bringing him in lots of money, our friend determined to 'cut the shop' and be done with trade altogether.

Accordingly, he sold the premises and good-will, with all the stock of potatoes and wheat, to the foreman, old Soapsuds, at something below what they were really worth, rather than make any row in the way of advertising; and the name of 'Soapsuds, Brothers & Co.' reigns on the blue-and-whitey-brown parcel-ends, where formerly that of Puffington stood supreme.

It is a melancholy fact, which those best acquainted with London society can vouch for, that her 'swells' are a very ephemeral race. Take the last five-and-twenty years-say from the days of the Golden Ball and Pea-green Hayne down to those of Molly C--l and Mr. D-l-f-ld-and see what a succession of joyous-no, not joyous, but rattling, careless, dashing, sixty-percenting youths we have had.

And where are they all now? Some dead, some at Boulogne-sur-Mer, some in Denman Lodge, some perhaps undergoing the polite attentions of Mr. Commissioner Phillips, or figuring in Mr. Hemp's periodical publication of gentlemen 'who are wanted.'

In speaking of 'swells,' of course we are not alluding to men with reference to their clothes alone, but to men whose dashing, and perhaps eccentric, exteriors are but indicative of their general system of extravagance. The man who rests his claims to distinction solely on his clothes will very soon find himself in want of society. Many things contribute to thin the ranks of our swells. Many, as we said before, outrun the constable. Some get fat, some get married, some get tired, and a few get wiser. There is, however, always a fine pushing crop coming on. A man like Puffington, who starts a dandy (in contradistinction to a swell), and adheres steadily to clothes-talking eternally of the cuts of coats or the ties of cravats-up to the sober age of forty, must be always falling back on the rising generation for society.

Puffington was not what the old ladies call a profligate young man. On the contrary, he was naturally a nice, steady young man; and only indulged in the vagaries we have described because they were indulged in by the high-born and gay.

Tom and Jerry had a great deal to answer for in the way of leading soft-headed young men astray; and old Puffington having had the misfortune to christen our friend 'Thomas,' of course his companions dubbed him 'Corinthian Tom'; by which name he has been known ever since.

A man of such undoubted wealth could not be otherwise than a great favourite with the fair, and innumerable were the invitations that poured into his chambers in the Albany-dinner parties, evening parties, balls, concerts, boxes for the opera; and as each succeeding season drew to a close, invitations to those last efforts of the desperate, boating and whitebait parties.

Corinthian Tom went to them all-at least, to as many as he could manage-always dressing in the most exemplary way, as though he had been asked to show his fine clothes instead of to make love to the ladies. Manifold were the hopes and expectations that he raised. Puff could not understand that, though it is all very well to be 'an amaazin' instance of a pop'lar man' with the men, that the same sort of thing does not do with the ladies.

We have heard that there were six mammas, bowling about in their barouches, at the close of his second season, innuendoing, nodding, and hinting to their friends, 'that, &c.,' when there wasn't one of their daughters who had penetrated the rhinoceros-like hide of his own conceit. The consequence was that all these ladies, all their daughters, all the relations and connexions of this life, thought it incumbent upon them to 'blow' our friend Puff-proclaim how infamously he had behaved-all because he had danced three supper dances with one girl, brought another a fine bouquet from Covent Garden, walked a third away from her party at a picnic at Erith, begged the mamma of a fourth to take her to a Woolwich ball, sent a fifth a ticket for a Toxophilite meeting, and dangled about the carriage of the sixth at a review at the Scrubbs. Poor Puff never thought of being more than an amaazin' instance of a pop'lar man!

Not that the ladies' denunciations did the Corinthian any harm at first-old ladies know each other better than that; and each new mamma had no doubt but Mrs. Depecarde or Mrs. Mainchance, as the case might be, had been deceiving herself-'was always doing so, indeed; her ugly girls were not likely to attract any one-certainly not such an elegant man as Corinthian Tom.'

But as season after season passed away, and the Corinthian still played the old game-still went the old rounds-the dinner and ball invitations gradually dwindled away, till he became a mere stop-gap at the one, and a landing-place appendage at the other.


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